Sunday, April 15, 2007

NHL Playoffs: Rangers Win, Isles Win, Devils Lose [J. Mark English]

The New York Rangers yesterday took a commanding two games to none advantage over the Atlanta Thrashers a mix of finesse as well as physical player. They head back to New York this week with a chance to finish up business against the Thrashers, ensuring a trip to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The New York Islanders evened up the series against the Buffalo Sabres on the back of the return of the star goalie, Rick DiPietro. The Islanders will be coming home not know if there will even be a sell out crowd at the coliseum to cheer them on, but they have a chance to score a major upset against the top seeded team in the east.

The New Jersey Devils took a step back, losing to the Tampa Bay Lightening. The loss evens the series at one and one. They will escape the monsoon that is hitting New York, and fly down to Tampa Bay where they will try to avoid a disaster in Tampa.

Here are some quick recaps of all three series:

Lynn Zinser of the New York Times:

With a still-open cut swelling his left eye and an ice pack strapped to his left wrist, Rangers forward Sean Avery stood in the visitors’ locker room at Philips Arena on Saturday and wore his scars proudly.

Avery had taken hit after hit from the Atlanta Thrashers and yet was largely responsible for both goals in a 2-1 victory that gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series.

Avery scored a goal on a weird bounce off the glass in the first period, then sent a sharp pass across the crease to a wide-open Brendan Shanahan for the winning goal with 4 minutes 1 second left in the third.

It was vintage Avery. His tough, agitating ways had drawn angry Thrashers to him all game. Several defensemen were trying to tie him up in front of the net when he found Shanahan for a clear shot.

Greg Logan of Newsday:

The Islanders have taken this whole "franchise player" concept to a new level. It has gone past signing Rick DiPietro for life and paying him lots to make saves. These days they're asking him to save the season.

Who knows if he can or will do that? But he did lengthen it by at least one game, assuring them of a Game 5 against the Sabres and promising them more. He did what franchise players are supposed to do: making everybody else better and carrying them when they need it.

Nights like Saturday night at HSBC Arena are why the Islanders gave him a 15-year contract and the keys to the franchise. He came back from his second concussion, a condition that would figure to make it hard just to get out of bed without being dizzy, and lifted the Islanders to a heady 3-2 win.

So they are tied with the Sabres, one game apiece, and ahead of the game. No way the Islanders had any business believing they could come out of here with a win against the top team in the National Hockey League this season. But they did it, and they will come back to Nassau Coliseum Monday night with a new life.

Mark Everson of the New York Post:

One Big Switch spun this series around last night. Now the heat's on the Devils as they head to Sunny Florida.

Playoff coaches are supposed to make the other team adjust and adapt, and Lightning bench boss John Tortorella made the big move the Devils didn't answer. Trailing late in the second, and facing the prospect of going down two games - a lead the Devils have never blown - Tortorella broke up his Terrific Twosome of Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis.

He looked a genius.

"It paid off," Lecavalier said. "It was a good move to make that switch, and it definitely paid off."

With the Devils' checking strategy stymied, each scored to erase New Jersey's lead and give Tampa a 3-2 victory at the Meadowlands last night, squaring this first round series at a game each.

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